"The worldwide success of an online game resulted in an annual profit of 3 billion USD, but it did not evade the attention of criminals. Through the in-game currency and the dark web, fraudsters "washed dirty" money, also using cryptocurrencies,” writes Bartosz Grejner, Conotoxia Analyst.
The issue concerns a game called Fortnite, which is very popular among children and teenagers, and the currency used in it, named v-bucks by its producers. Criminals buy the game currency with stolen credit and debit cards and then sell it mainly on the darknet, which is the part of the internet not indexed by search engines like Google. In this way, illegal money is "washed" with the use of currency in the game. The scale of the problem was reported by Sixgill, a company researching the dark web, as well as by "The Independent" in the article "How children playing Fortnite are helping to fuel organised crime".
Demand attracts fraudsters
Fortnite is currently one of the most popular online games. It is available for free and has already gained over 200 million players around the world. On the world's largest streaming platform Twitch is second only to one game in terms of popularity. Fortnite is distributed in the freemium model, which means that the game is available for free, but at the same time allows you to buy items or extensions within the game itself. From the point of view of game producers, it is a much more profitable business model than a traditional one-off payment in advance. It brings a constant stream of income spread over a longer period of time.
Such a model enabled the game producers to make a profit of about 3 billion USD in 2018. According to the data of the research company mentioned above, the growing popularity of Fortnite on the darknet was directly related to the monthly revenues generated by the game. The latter did not escape the eyes of the criminal world, which took advantage of weak security and immense popularity, as well as the high demand for the internal currency of the game. It was used to "wash" money obtained from theft. Another important factor was the fact that paying with stolen cards is not the only way to "wash" money available in Fortnite.
Items in Fortnite can also be bought with cryptocurrencies, which is sometimes used for illegal transactions on the internet (e.g. hacking attacks, ransomware) since it provides a higher level of privacy in comparison to, e.g. bitcoin. However, bitcoin is also involved in this process. The v-bucks bought with "dirty money" are later offered on the darknet very often for bitcoins. Criminals may lose a dozen or more per cent, but the money is "clean" after the whole operation.
Although we shouldn't create a conspiracy related to the producers, the use of the monero currency in the game could also be a bit unfortunate. Though it is a cryptocurrency also used for legal transactions, at the end of last year the US Department of Homeland Security, which commissioned the creation of a system for tracking transactions made with its use, became interested in it.
The creator of Fortnite will probably want to make his internal currency more secure in order to reduce illegal activities. However, this situation shows one of the most significant problems that virtual currencies are currently facing. Both v-bucks, bitcoin and monero are practically unregulated, which creates a serious problem as the real world of money and virtual money become more and more interconnected. This is underlined by the fact that the whole procedure took place before the eyes of millions and was (probably still is) driven by the popularity of the game, which is generated mainly by children.